New 30p fee for Borders toilets could go down pan if outcry continues

Hawick councillor Davie Paterson outside the Common Haugh car park public toilets.
Hawick councillor Davie Paterson outside the Common Haugh car park public toilets.
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Scottish Borders Council’s controversial new 30p charge for spending a penny at most of the region’s public conveniences could face going down the pan just weeks after being introduced.

The council has promised to “react to feedback” to its decision in February to levy a fee 29p more than the proverbial penny at 27 public toilets and hasn’t ruled out scrapping it altogether.

That commitment to review the new regime, only in force for a matter of weeks, was given at last week’s full council meeting by Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, the authority’s executive member for neighbourhoods and locality services.

A total of £200,000 was put aside to pay for the introduction of coin machines to enforce the changes, but it is only in recent weeks that they have been fitted, leaving those desperate to answer calls of nature having to scrabble frantically around to find the right change.

Ahead of the May local government elections, the Conservative group at Newtown, then in opposition but now in power, vociferously objected to the charges, claiming they were “discriminatory, unfair and plainly wrong”.

Mr Aitchison, one of seven independents now in a ruling coalition with the 15 Conservatives, was asked by opposition Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson if the new administration had any plans to scrap the toilet charges.

“The introduction of a 30p charge for the use of 27 of the council’s 41 public conveniences was agreed and savings of £210,000 included in the financial revenue plan for 2017-18, with a further £100,000 of savings due to be delivered in 2018-19,” said Mr Aitchison.

“Although no specific proposals are currently being considered to remove the charges, a report will come to council later this year in which the options for the future of this non-statutory service may be considered.

“Feedback on charging – as well as alternative models of comfort schemes in our towns and communities – will be considered, including feedback from residents, businesses and community representatives.

“Options for the future will be decided at that time.

“We are a listening council and will react to that feedback.”

Charging has not been introduced at 14 other public toilets, including Denholm’s, because they are not used often enough to justify it.